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Tahltan Elders taunt coal mining firm to arrest them

Tahltan Grandmother Jenny Quock arrested 2005 for blockading Fortune Minerals

A showdown between a Tahltan Elder-led First Nations group and a coal mining company in northwest B.C. is getting ugly, as protesters taunt Fortune Minerals Limited to have them arrested, a news release from the band said today.

"We dare Fortune to get us arrested!  We have cameras here.  We will make sure the world knows what's going on," said the group's spokesperson, Rhoda Quock.

The opposition group, known as the Klabona Keepers have been camped out for more than a month at a Fortune Minerals drill site, and are now expecting the company will file a court injunction to have the RCMP remove them.

"In fact, we think our arrests may come this weekend," said Quock.

The Klabona Keepers, numbering in the dozens, are opposing the Arctos Anthracite project - a 40-square-kilometre open-pit coal mine targeted for the heart of the so-called Sacred Headwaters at Mt. Klappan.

The area is the origin of three wild-salmon rivers, and a place of profound ecological and cultural importance to the Tahltan people who have lived there for thousands of years, according to the release.

So far, the Klabona Keepers have successfully blockaded roads to the camp, as well as access to Fortune drilling equipment, without getting arrested.  RCMP have made continuous visits to the camp, the group says.

However, the group's actions have put pressure on government to appoint a mediator to find a solution.

But on Tuesday, a provincial press release, authorized by three B.C. government ministers, said the mediator process would "allow the Arctos project to proceed."

"The government's statement has infuriated our people.  It suggests the coal mine's approval is a foregone conclusion," said Iskut Band Chief Marie Quock on Friday in the release.

"Our people will never surrender our Sacred Headwaters." 

Anger over the government release is on top of a string of other First Nations grievances related to the Fortune project, including:

  • a Fortune Minerals drill operator who was photographed removing his pants and "mooning" Tahltan community members at the camp
  • Fortune helicopters conducting dangerous flyovers above the Tahltan camp, slinging heavy equipment
  • Sludge draining from Fortune drilling equipment into nearby streams, in possible violation of environmental regulations

Should arrests happen - they would not be the first involving the Tahltan and Fortune Minerals. In 2005, the company initiated a court order that saw fifteen Tahltan arrested, including nine Elders, for blockading the same mine project back then.

"This is not just about the land and environment, it is about our people, our people's right to use and occupy the land as they have done since time immemorial," said Chief Quock.

B.C. Mining Minister Bill Bennett is expected to meet with Tahltan at the camp on Saturday to hear Tahltan concerns.

The saga first heated up August 17th, when a high profile meeting took place at the mountainside camp between Fortune's CEO Robin Goad and Tahltan leaders and community members.

That's also when a nine-year-old Tahltan boy, Caden Jakesta, cried as he pleaded with the CEO to not have his grandpa's camp "dug up".

The emotional encounter, recorded on a video now getting more than 7,000 views online, is giving the Tahltan an unexpected publicity boost.

Also promoting the cause has been David Suzuki, who wrote a nationally publicized op/ed piece in newspapers across Canada, criticizing the Fortune Minerals project.

The remote camp at Mt.Klappan, about 1,000 km northwest of Vancouver, is getting a steady stream of visitors, including a federal politician, photographers, filmmakers and journalists.

Rhoda Quock says the ongoing conflict is symbolic of historical wrongs.

"As Truth & Reconciliation events take place this week, addressing the past wrongs of government stealing our children from our land -- it now appears they want to steal the land from our children."

Fortune's Arctos Anthracite project is a joint venture with POSCO Canada Ltd. — a subsidiary of South Korean steel giant POSCO.

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